Canadians cross the border, but take a while to make it back!
By: Karl Saidla (2005/02/04)
As I buckled up my seat-belt in rental van that we would be driving down to Mt. Itasca for the Super Tour races from Thunder Bay I asked the other passengers, “Is this going to be an awesome trip?!”.
Awesome indeed. For some reason my wits were just not about me (as my mother would say) for the week or so surrounding this trip. No comment on why. I had first of all flown from Ottawa to Thunder Bay to travel with a friendly group of Canadians from all over the place down to Mt. Itasca. While I was out jogging down John Street (in Thunder Bay) the day before we were leaving I realized that I had no passport or other proof of citizenship. According to Jeff Seguin, with whom I was staying in Thunder Bay, this was definitely not a good thing. “If you don’t have a passport or something you’re s.o.l. , my friend. Those guys down at Pigeon River (border crossing) will turn you right around and send you home!”.
So I got out my calling card and made a series of panic phone calls. I was finally rescued when my passport showed up in the mail the next morning, courtesy of my parents who continue to bail me out of these juvenile situations as I am pushing 28 years old.
This would prove to be, however, not my biggest mistake of the weekend. Being one of the few people on this trip old enough to drive a rental van I became one of the drivers for the trip. A responsibility indeed, but nothing that should have been beyond my abilities under normal circumstances.
On Saturday I drove one of the vans out to the race course. When it was time to drive home I reached in the zippered right pocket of my red Gore-Tex jacket - my ‘place’ for van keys. For some as yet unexplained reason, the keys were not in the ‘place’. No problem, I thought, they must be in my other pocket. They were not there either. They were also not in the top pocket of my bag, any of the pockets of my other jackets, in my ski boots, in my gloves, my drinkbelt, my wax box or any of the other places one would normally look for innocently misplaced items. The search began and continued for about the next three hours. We combed the wax room, the parking lot and the spot in the bush where I had stopped to answer a call of nature. We found all kinds of things, but no keys!
We then moved to a new set of strategies involving phone calls to CAA, local locksmiths, G.M Roadside Assistance, and National car rental in Thunder Bay. Basically we found out that getting a replacement key would be about as easy as cleaning Rossa klister off a pair of skis with nothing but your bare hands. The van remained in the parking lot overnight.
It remained in the parking lot until after the race on Sunday, when we finally had it towed to a dealership in Grand Rapids that would open the next morning at 9. The next morning, however, was a day later than the scheduled departure of the van. We managed to jam everything and everyone into and on top of the other two vans we had rented and sent them home. Mark Doble, from NTDC Thunder Bay, graciously volunteered to spend the night in Grand Rapids with me. We checked into the Super 8 motel and pondered how to best enjoy a Sunday night in Grand Rapids. We had a bite to eat and asked the waitress what the locals would be doing for fun on a Sunday night. “Oh gee”, she answered, “I don’t know….not much going on I don’t think. Sundays are basically hangover days around here”.
We were pretty determined to find something to do regardless. After several inquiries we were told that the place to be was a club called the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars). This is basically a legion-type place that had a MAJOR karaoke night on Sundays. One local Minnesotan described it as “definitely an experience”.
He was not kidding. The first thing we noticed was a rather large woman gyrating to a version of that song about big butts by Sir Mix A Lot, wearing a T-shirt reading “She’s a Brickhouse”. Then a voice whispered from behind us, “ You might like lookin at ‘er, but you sure don’t want ta know ’er”. We watched one karaoke performance after another, the most memorable, perhaps, being a snowmobile enthusiast (is that what you call them?) doing AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells. We also had a rather informative conversation with a forty-something woman about her favourite pick-up lines ( Did it hurt? Did what hurt? When you fell from heaven!) as well as her gambling habit. It was well under control as she spent no more than 400 bucks a night or so. We were welcome to go with her to the Casino after karaoke if we wanted.
We politely declined and went back to the Super 8 to sleep. The better part of the next day was spend hanging around a G.M. dealership and the hotel lobby waiting for a key to be made for the van. Finally, around 2 o’clock we headed out on the long drive back to Thunder Bay.
Looking back I realize that I inconvenienced quite a few people, (thanks folks, you know who you are!) and given the option, I would surely have not lost that key! Once the key was lost, however, the only choice was to “play with cards we were dealt”, so to speak. In a way, much of ski racing, and life in general seems to be this way. We managed to have a good time in Grand Rapids and it made the trip particularly memorable. Sometimes the best things about ski racing are unexpected. I am sure that ten years from now more than one person will look back on this trip and laugh a little.